Centrist elites have blocked political change and made way for the reactionary right – Feed

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Summary of the episode

As America heads into the 2022 midterm elections, polls indicate Democrats could receive some very bad news in November. Party strategists are now openly considering the likelihood of losing both the House and the Senate, which could have all sorts of other consequences.

As many people know, the president’s party has always done worse in off-year elections, but it’s worth considering the possibility that Democratic leaders are also somewhat to blame for the party’s apparent predicament. The rules of American politics have favored small, rural states from the country’s beginning, and party leaders appear to have done little to counter Republican efforts to siphon off less-educated voters using religious controversies.

Do the Democrats know what they are doing? This is a question worth asking. In this episode, I’m joined by Luc Sauvagehe is an editor for the socialist magazine Jacobin and author of a new book “The Dead Center: Reflections on Liberalism After the End of History”.

The video of our conversation is below. Transcription of the edited audio follows.



Transcription

MATTHEW SHEFFIELD: Thanks for being here today, Luke.

LUKE SAVAGE: Thanks for inviting me.

SHEFFIELD: Okay. So there are a lot of words in the title. But I want to discuss every aspect. So first of all, it’s a collection of writings you’ve done or columns and articles for Jacobin magazine over the years. but your overarching overall thesis, you try to organize it as a thematic sense looking at a larger argument, and then it gets focused on the “dead point”. What do you mean by dead center?

SAVAGE: Well, dead center I guess refers to a number of things, but basically dead center is the political consensus that we live in, globally, but especially in the west and even more, especially in the sort of Anglo-American west.

So in Britain and North America, I think that’s the consensus we’re at, we’ve been stuck since the early 1990s or so. A very important and formative period in world history, I think in some ways quite a unique period in world history where liberals defined broadly and also in the European context, people who had called themselves social- democrats or, or even socialists in many cases basically capitulated to the zeitgeist of the 1990s, to this kind of world of unfettered markets hyper financialization deregulation range of types of resource-tested social policies and things like that.

And there are, there are many, many different things that we could discuss about all of this. But I think in terms of the title and the theme of my book, the most important thing about that moment was that it was really ignored. A broad notion of progress that people had somehow, I mean, strongly at different times in the 20th century, but really going back to modern times, there was a variety of beliefs, of broad currents of belief that the future could be something qualitatively different and better than the present, and transcending the problems and injustices found in the present.

Something unique. I think in many ways of the 1990s which, you know, is contained in things like the sentence, the end of the story. It was the idea that this world that we have is now as far as we have reached, this is the end, this is the end of the rainbow. There is nothing beyond or outside of that. And I think even in a world, end my thought here, even in a world where we’ve had this consensus that we live in has been disrupted and upset now repeatedly by many different things.

And yet, we still live in some sort of undead version of it. So it’s the, it’s the neutral point in the broad sense as interpreted in my book.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And for those who hadn’t heard the phrase “The end of the story”, it was the literal title of a book. And it was essentially this book of this guy named Francis Fukuyama that became almost the bible of the global emerging neoliberal corporate consensus after it came out in the, in the 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union.

And so, but it’s still weird, as much as this book has been embraced en masse by centrists, you could call them conservatives, frankly, I think you should. But people on the left haven’t really responded to it as much, not as much. And it kind of took everything by storm in the universities. And I mean, do you want to talk a bit about it? Or is it, I don’t know, too far?

SAVAGE: Well, I, I think it’s actually relevant. I mean, so I’ve been, I’ve been engaged and involved in the political left, in one way or another, since I was a teenager.

And when I was a teenager in the early 2000s, the left was really very different from the left as it exists today. And I would say that actually the left was pretty hard hit by neoliberal corporatism in the 80s and 90s and not just leftist institutions.

So there were all sorts of obvious ways. And it happened, beaten unions and things like that. But also in a kind of deeper and, in some ways, more insidious ideological sense. I think when I got into the political left, it was really a pretty, pretty sad place.

And it was not a place. I mean, people may have still talked, they may have referred to types of horizons beyond the world we lived in, but I don’t think most people really believed that. It was really about fighting the world as it was, and just trying to make it a little less inhuman and that sort of thing.

In the past, sort of 5, 6, 7 years ago, there was a really, really inspiring attempt to go beyond that. And that’s one of the reasons why the political left is much more alive and vibrant today than I thought it was 20 years ago.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Well, and, and it was, ultimately, you had this idea that, that it was as good as it could be. And that we can’t expect more. Don’t expect more. And sure, but the problem is, if that’s the sentiment that dominates the political left, well, it’s not really the political left. It’s basically conservative said because I mean ultimately I think the other thing is that people’s political compasses were miscalibrated after the fall of the Soviet Union in what conservatism was of, say, the Edmund Burke type variety or English Canadian conservatism their ballast, if you will, their center of gravity is a kind of “Let’s leave it as it is now”. We don’t need to do anything else. We don’t need to be reactionaries. We don’t need to be more socially democratic. Let’s keep things as they are.

And so like that it is, in some cases like a centrist, non-ideological, moderate conservative-type attitude and that attitude and people with those beliefs kind of took over the political left in a lot of countries in the United States . And then effectively what that meant was that it created this vast reaction room on the, on the right. And that didn’t really exist outside of the United States, I would say. You are a Canadian though. You tell me.

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